The very first thing Bill Cosby said on the phone was, "What school did you come out of?" Not, did you go to school, but where did you go to school.
As I fumbled to decide whether to call one of television's greatest legends Bill or Mr. Cosby, (I ended up doing both, back to back, an embarrassing amount of times) I blurted out: "the University of Central Florida."
It's clear from the get-go that education is important to Mr.Cosby, a.k.a. Bill. He is a man that knows what his purpose is and has very strong opinions. He corrected the way I asked questions and I didn't even care, because he's Bill Cosby. He could've told me my voice sounded like Fran Drescher's on a bad day, and asked if my questions were written by a three-year old, and it still would've been one of the biggest highlights of my journalistic career.
But he didn't say any of those things, that's just not his way. He's a very kind man and very clearly from a different generation. We discussed TV, racial boundaries, and of course, Jell-O.
New Times: You were the first African American to win an Emmy for your costarring role in I Spy, can you tell me about that?
Bill Cosby: Well, the answer is yes, but the question isn't right. What do you mean?
Can you explain the experience to me?
Good, you should put that in the question.
Well, it was after Sidney Poitier won his Oscar for Lilies of the Field. Winning at that time was unthought of for me at that age. At the time, there were three stations that wouldn't play us because of my race. So when the award was given to me, I didn't have time to think, but I know that the emotional rush was tantamount to everything I'd done in my life, and then it slowed down to my mother. It was very wonderfully emotional.
I did not think that this would end racial discrimination, nor do I think it proved that Hollywood would open its doors and everybody would be equal.
You've sang on a number of albums, especially in the '70s and even had a top 40 hit with "Little Old Man." Do you think you'll want to sing again?
A top what hit?
No, it was in the top five! It hit number four.
You have a doctorate in education that you got after you career had taken off. Why is education so important to you?
In managing my life, I really fouled up. But to be in charge of one's self, to be allowed to be in charge of one's self... When you look at my work or you hear me talking in books or on television, there's always a message to enforce the importance of education and the thoughts of what education will allow a person to do, regardless of where they are in their economic life.
To add to the list of things you seem to excel at, you're also a bestselling author. What books have you read in your life that have inspired you?
Quite a few, but I would like to send your readers to Wikipedia and look up Carl Sandburg. As you read about him, I would ask you to think as you go through his biography: Where do you get an idea that this man has studied writing? It's just not there. That's the amazing thing.
He never studied writing?
Well you have to look for it. Where do you see that this is what he wanted to be, that this is what he wanted to do? There's no hint at all that this man will one day become a Pulitzer Prize winner three times over.
You're known for your ability to be funny without resorting to profanity. Bob Newhart is like that, even Will Smith is known for that. It seems like today that profanity has become a means to humor, how do you feel about that?
Hey, if you can use it, go ahead. Knock yourself out. Patron beware, this is entertainment for a lot of people and a lot of them bring their children.
The Cosby Show discussed a lot of big issues while it was on the air, and the Huxtables always knew what to say to their kids. How do you feel parents today are dealing with issues like teenage sex or drug use?
I would like to address for the parents a need to be clearer with the males and the females pertaining to pregnancy. If you look at the definition of "parent," many people fall short. Whether you're 13 or 14 years old, you've got no job and no way to support yourself so you shouldn't risk bringing a human being into this world who's going to need monetary, mental, emotional, and parental support.